Every so often, someone asks you a question that you can’t help but still be thinking about several days later. Sometimes it is a question of your personal beliefs that can really shake you. Other times it could be an eloquently worded rhetorical question that makes you question the relationships you have in your life. But, other times it is a question of what the state of professional rugby league would be like if the Brisbane premiership (now the Qld Cup) was the dominant competition in Australia rather than the Sydney premiership such that the NRL was largely constituted by Brisbane suburban teams.
This was one of those times.
First – A bit of history
In 1908 the NSW Rugby League competition was started with 9 teams from the inner city in Sydney, west to Parramatta, north to Newcastle and south, to, well, South Sydney.
However, north of the border, there were a group of Queenslanders trying to do the same thing for themselves, and they were able to start their competition in 1909 with just 4 teams. North Brisbane, Toombul, Valley, and South Brisbane.
There were two very divergent paths taken by the QRL and NSWRL in the first 40 years or so. The QRL had infighting, breakaway administrations and multiple troublesome playing ground issues, whereas NSWRL had a comparatively unimpeded road to glory with geographical expansion, steady management and general success. All of this coupled with the NSWRL’s starting base of 9 teams compared to the QRL’s 4, meant that it was really a one horse race to become the top competition in the country.
So I’ve had to create an alternate reality where these issues didn’t plague the QRL in their early days. Here is a transcript of me being interviewed as though I am from the parallel universe where this whole “QLD Cup being the dominant competition” thing DID happen and answer a series of questions.
Q1. What is this competition called?
A1. QNRL. It’s the Queensland National Rugby League. To placate the parochial Queenslanders who began getting upset that they were losing ‘their’ competition when teams from interstate (and overseas) were beginning to be included, the QRL – who were planning to change the competitions name to the National Rugby League – added Queensland at the front in a last minute decision that was wildly popular up north. While it doesn’t actually make any sense at all, the Cane Toads don’t seem to have noticed.
Q2. How many teams are in the competition today and who are they?
Fortitude Valley Diehards (1909) – The only remaining foundation team
Souths Magpies (1910) – Formerly “West End” in their early years and still playing at Davies Park
Wests Panthers (1910) – Playing out of Bardon in Brisbane’s inner west
Easts Tigers (1917) – From Coorparoo in Brisbane city’s eastern pocket
Norths Devils (1921) – Brought in to replace “North Brisbane” and playing at Nundah near Brisbane airport
Brothers Leprechauns (1935) – Started as a club for former students of a Christian school they moved on to become a team to represent the heart of the city in Brisbane
Wynnum Manly Seagulls (1947) – Representing the waterside eastern suburbs of Brisbane
Redcliffe Dolphins (1947) – 1947 was the year of the water as the boys from the Redcliffe beaches got a team
Maroochydore Swans (1967) – Representing the Sunshine Coast out of their most populous area
Burleigh Bears (1967) – The original and still the best Gold Coast franchise
Logan City Scorpions (1973) – Replaced the old South Brisbane (who went bankrupt) to keep the competition at 12 teams (at the time)
Townsville Cowboys (1982) – After foundation club Toombul folded, Townsville brought first class rugby league to the far north
Sydney Sharks (1982) – The big leap was made to bring in a Sydney team in 82. The team is sky blue for obvious reasons and that’s why they got the Sharks moniker
Canberra Raiders (1988) – The nation’s capital (as dull as it is) had to be in the national competition once you start expanding interstate
Newcastle Knights (1988) – A Rugby League city that possibly should have been in the competition sooner
Ipswich Jets (1988) – Because the parochial Queenslanders were getting upset at ‘losing’ their local competition, they get their team in the South West of Brisbane
Cumberland Cougars (1995) – Based in Parramatta they would go on to become a popular team with older women on the prowl
New Zealand Moa (1995) – Playing mostly out of Auckland, they would move a couple of games a season to Wellington. The Moa is basically the NZ version of an Emu
Cairns Crocs (1995) – Townsville has a 13 year head start, but that won’t stop the Crocs from refusing to be upstaged in the battle of Far North Queensland
Central Coast Bats (1995) – The Coast has been crying out for a team and the Bats have arrived to fulfil everyone’s dreams. It took a Queensland competition to get a Gosford side to the big time
Melbourne Storm (2000) – The last major city on the Eastern seaboard had to get a team eventually
Penrith Black Cats (2000) – A third Sydney team stretches the game from the city to the mountains
22 teams – 14 of which are based in Queensland. The 14 teams have been able to be sustained north of the border due to the fanaticism of the people towards this game – in spite of lower population levels to maintain financial viability.
Q3. What is the standard of play like considering the high number of teams?
A3. Not amazing. The game is not as popular in Sydney (though gaining momentum with the additional teams) with other codes taking extra slices of the pie, and while there are obviously still a lot of talented players coming from Sydney (it’s still the dominant sport, just not as dominant) the quality of the also-ran’s from Sydney is lower.
So, due to this, a much higher proportion of the players in the league come from Queensland, and with their overall population being smaller that pool is also not as big as you would hope to be able to fill 22 teams. But with nothing to compare it to negatively (i.e. it is still the best league in the world) then there aren’t any real complaints.
Q4. Are there any plans for further expansion? If so where?
A4. Yes. There are to be 3 more teams added in 2015 to take it to a 25 team competition (play everyone once with one bye each)
There are 10 teams bidding for these 3 spots as follows.
Central Queensland Capras – On the plus side they have existed as a club since 1996 so have good structures in place. On the down side they are based in Rockhampton with a home ground capacity of 8000, and what the hell is a Capra?
Mackay Cutters – A club that was established in 2008 they have a decent stadium (Virgin Australia Stadium) that holds over 12,000, but with Townsville and Cairns already in the competition, Mackay may be a little bit too close and the nickname invokes images of suicide. Obviously not ideal.
Tweed Titans – Ultimately a club that has existed in some form since 1909 should have been in the competition 50 years earlier, but multiple things have conspired against them and they are the equivalent of trying to get a Central Coast team in the real NRL. Everyone wants them there, but it’s just not going to happen
Port Moresby Bulldogs – Adding a third nation to the competition would be a coup, and while they are much closer to joining the QNRL than they are of joining the real life NRL, there are still the inherent infrastructure problems that come along with a team based in PNG
Darwin Reds – Aiming to become the first Northern Territory team to succeed in a national/international competition, the QNRL is interested in the bid for those bragging rights, but it does suffer from the same problem that all Darwin based teams have. They’re in Darwin
Coffs Harbour Comets – Famous alternate reality movie star Russell Crowne is backing this bid and planning to fund the upgrade required to the local stadium to bring it up to QNRL standard. On the down side, the QNRL have been looking to expand into larger cities rather than smaller provincial towns over the last 30 years
Sutherland Supremacy – Sydney’s south feels vastly underrepresented in this competition and the Supremacy plan to change that. A fourth Sydney team might be a stretch for the Queenslanders running the game, but the racial overtones of their name may prove to be a hit
Perth Pumas – A new stadium, a new market, a growing following for the sport, a name that’s marketable. The others could be fighting for just 2 remaining spots if it weren’t for one problem – distance
Q5. Does State of Origin exist?
A5. Not as you know it. It was tried once, but ended in a whitewash to Queensland. The NSW players didn’t have that extra fire in their belly at being the underdogs that the Cane Toads get and so no fight was started in the first game, and it was barely a contest, so there was no repeat effort.
Q6. Who is the “Pride of the League”?
A6. When The Fortitude Valley Diehards are doing well, rugby league is doing well. They have survived multiple financial crises as well as some long slumps in form but have refused to die as a club. I guess that’s where the name comes from.
Q7. What significant dynasties have there been?
A7. The Norths Devils have been one of the most successful clubs and have the record for consecutive premierships at 6 – from 1957-1962. Fortitude Valley have the most premierships in total with 18 (helped by being around the longest and winning 6 of the first 11 titles, including the first 4). The Redcliffe Dolphins won 4 in a row from 1994 to 1997 but besides that, no team has won more than 2 consecutive titles in the history of the league. The fact that all teams actually have a shot next year even if they go horribly this year seems to have been a factor in keeping the interest from supporters so high and allowing the expansion to happen to such a large degree.
Q8. Is waiting for Maroochydoore to win a premiership the equivalent of leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt?
A8. Maroochydore are looking likely to break their duck in the coming season. The real horror story is Brothers who have made 9 Grand Finals for only one win (1949)
Q9. Are the equivalent of the Dally M Award and Clive Churchill Medal renamed in honour of Queensland rather than NSW-based legends?
A9. The best player in the league is given the Tom Gorman Trophy, while the best on ground in the Grand Final is awarded the Steinohrt Medal (named for Herb Steinohrt). Both legendary players from the 1920’s
Q10. Are there many players from England or France, or do New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders still largely constitute the contingent of foreign players?
A10. There are more English players that aren’t necessarily superstars playing in the QNRL due to the lower quality in the playing stocks here – which has in turn lowered the standard of the ESL. There are still no French players.
Q11. Is there an annual QNRL All-Stars match given that there’s no State of Origin? Surely we need some sort of representative football outside of international matches!
A11. There are representative matches that take place. Started in 1996 there is an All-Star match between players from QLD teams and players from the rest of the league. This only relates to where they are playing at the time, it is not an “origin” situation. The game has become quite popular and outside of internationals it is the most prestigious representative jersey you can get. This game was brought in for two reasons. Firstly, the people wanted more representative games, and secondly in the 1995 season, the six teams in the competition at the time that are based outside of Queensland all failed to make the top 8. In fact the highest finishing team (Newcastle Knights) finished in 11th out of 20, meaning none were in the top half of the competition. Queenslanders being Queenslanders, they were reluctant to move out of the state if they could avoid it and with so many different teams to play for they often didn’t need to. Obviously it would be much easier to be selected in the “Outsiders” team than in the QLD side so this provided some players with an incentive to move to the clubs in NSW, ACT and NZ. It worked and over time there has been just as much top level talent playing in Queensland as there is out of it.
There is also a Queensland v The Rest Of The World game at the end of each season, that is based on where a player was born. It’s not taken too seriously and is just seen as some light entertainment to finish the season.
There aren’t any other representative games, however there is the annual Whiskas Cup which is decided by the results of all games played between The Wests Panthers, Easts Tigers, Cumberland Cougars and Penrith Black Cats. It has been going since 2000 and the Cougars are the only team yet to win it.
Q12. What is the international scene like?
A12. Not much different to how it is now. Australia is still the dominant world team, but NZ and England are closer to the Kangaroos and each other. But there’s still a big drop off after that.
That’s my take. The question now is which 3 expansion teams do you put through? Let me know your thoughts.